I chose Cambodia to undertake my medical placement because I had been there before and was more than happy to spend more time there. I’ve always been struck by how friendly and relaxed the people of Phnom Penh are, there’s such an easy-going attitude which drew me back to the destination.
In the months leading up to my journey, I found it so helpful to have all of the pre-departure information regarding visas and the shared accommodation available to me via the MyTrip portal. It made it all very exciting, especially seeing on the timeline exactly what I needed to arrange at each stage — I consider myself to be a pretty organised person but due to how busy I was with university at the time, it was greatly appreciated.
Along with MyTrip, I found the UK team to be extremely helpful. As I was undertaking this placement as part of my degree, my university required a lot of information in a very short amount of time, and the Work the World team were always very quick to help.
This is the first time I’ve ever traveled on my own, but I can honestly say that I never felt like I was alone. When I arrived, our Programme Manager, met us at the airport and took us all back to the house where we found snacks had been made for us in anticipation for our arrival.
The Work the World house can only be described as ‘homey’, the food was always really good and everyone sits down for breakfast and dinner together, which was nice.
The next day we all had our welcome briefing, were introduced to the Work the World team at the house and taken for a tour of the local area so that we knew where the supermarkets were and where to get a local SIM card.
As part of our city orientation we were also all taken for a welcome lunch, it was great to have someone to show you around and be shown the best places to go in our free time for food and drinks. The Programme Manager made it really easy for us to settle in!
Living with healthcare students from around the world was a really interesting experience, learning about different cultures and listening to the similarities and variations in what we’ve been taught in our different education systems.
During my placement, I encountered a lot of interesting cases that were at much more advanced stages than I’ve seen in Australia. Patients wouldn’t even know they were sick until things became quite severe.
One of the most interesting experiences I had was when the doctor asked us to go and see a particular patient and work out what was wrong with him based on his history and symptoms, it was really great to have the opportunity to work this out by ourselves.
What really surprised me was hearing about the different patient experiences — one person came into the hospital asking to be checked for Hepatitis and I wondered why, because in Australia we wouldn't check for that unless that they had been exposed to it, so it was interesting seeing the different health concerns in Cambodia compared to back home.
I could see that that the doctors were trying to reflect practices seen in the Western world but with limited resources, patient income restrictions dictating how they could be treated, and the limited drugs that were available to them, this was a challenge.
The most eye-opening observation I took from the experience however was the differences in medicine and equipment. During my time in the emergency department there was a power outage and a nurse had to manually ventilate one of the patients who was breathing through a machine just because there was no backup. The healthcare system really reflects the resilience of Cambodian people and we became a part of the team — they really took the time to explain things to us if you want to learn.
Another interesting thing I noticed was the attitudes and relationships between nurses, pharmacists and doctors, even the medical students in Cambodia. If the doctor says something, it is never questioned, and I took this to be a sign of respect.
On our first weekend in Cambodia, six of us from the house took a trip to Koh Rong island and booked a hotel for our trip which was nice and fairly cheap. We lazed around on the stunning beaches and had dinner, it was such a lovely getaway and fairly easy to get to via the local bus and a short ferry.
On another weekend, we went to Siem Riep, home to the famous ancient temple complex of Angkor Wat. Again as a group, we hired a local tuk-tuk driver which cost $18 between us to explore the area. Go there if you get the chance!